Which company is the best at high ISO: Canon or Nikon. Answer: neither, how about Fuji? Yes, as crazy as it seems, neither Canon nor Nikon is the leader in the high ISO department anymore as Fujifilm, with its X-Pro1, has taken a convincing lead in this all-important (to a lot of people) aspect of photographic performance.
Thanks to Imaging Resource (IR), one of the web’s most trusted sites for everything digital camera, one can now compare pictures for the latest cameras. Now, while the whole D4 vs. 5DIII vs. D800 debate has been the hot topic in many online forums, I decided to throw another element into the mix: the Fuji X-Pro1.
The X-Pro1 can trace its roots back to another revolutionary camera from Fuji, the X100. Launched in 2010, the large-sensor (APS-C chip), fixed lens point and shoot was so popular that it was nearly impossible to find for almost a year after launch. While many people were initially bowled-over with the X100 (not only did it look cool, but it had stunning image quality), it soon created a longing for more: a Fuji with interchangeable lenses.
Cue the X-Pro1. Launched at CES back in January, the Fuji X-Pro1 was just the thing many people had been wishing for since the X100 was announced way back in 2010: namely a X100 with the ability to change lenses. Well, the people spoke and Fuji responded. Almost immediately, the public was comparing the X-Pro1 to Leica.
However, the Fuji X-Pro1 has all the hallmarks of being something great in its own right.
To start with, Fuji is making big promises about the camera’s 16Mp, APS-C sensor. Called the X-Trans CMOS, Fuji claims that its new sensor, thanks to its lack of a low-pass filter, will produce exquisite images, ones that will be even better than those created by full-frame sensors, which are undeniably superior to anything created by a sub-frame camera, at least so far. In theory, the new filter will fix moire and false color problems while increasing the image’s clarity.
In the weeks since release, images from the X-Pro1 that have found their way online have seemed to back up Fuji’s bragging. Now, finally, the opportunity to pit the X-Pro1 against the latest generation of full-frame cameras presents itself. So, how does the braggart Fuji do?
Answer: very well.
To start with, the X-Pro1 is essentially noiseless through ISO 3200, a remarkable achievement for a sub-frame camera. In fact, through this setting, it is neck-in-neck with the Canon 5D Mark III, the new champion for out of the box (aka default JPEG) noise performance. At ISO 6400, the Fuji starts to exhibit noise in the darker areas of the image. Here the Canon remains stunningly clean. Upping the ISO to 12,800, the pictures are noisy in the lighter shadows, such as by the thread bundles and at the top of the bottles. As for the darker areas, the noise is clearly visible by now. At the same point, the 5DIII starts to show traces of noise in the deepest shadows, too. At its top setting of ISO 25,600, the images are usable at best. As for the 5DIII, shadow noise is on the rise while it is still remarkably clean in the lighter areas.
Final assessment: the 5DIII has about a 1-stop advantage on the Fuji, so how can I say that the X-Pro1 wins anything?
Answer: it’s all about the sensor size.
The chip used in the Fuji X-Pro1 measures 18x24mm and has a total area of 432 square millimeters. AS for the Canon 5D Mark III (and the Nikon D4 and D800), they use sensors measuring 24x26mm (the same size as 35mm film) and have an area of 864 square millimeters, or double the area of the Fuji.
Now, it doesn’t take a degree in calculus to figure out that, if two cameras have the same Mp count but different size sensors, the camera with the smaller sensor must have smaller pixels, too. Illustration: the D4 and X-Pro1 are both 16Mp, which means that they have the same exact amount of pixels on their sensors. However, the D4′ chip is exactly twice the size in that of the X-Pro1. So, if the D4 and X-Pro1 have the same pixel count but the D4 has a sensor that’s twice as big, that can only mean one thing: the individual pixels on the D4 must be twice as large as those on the X-Pro1. Now, there is no denying the fact that the small pixels simply can’t overcome the laws of physics. Simply put, small pixels make noisy pictures, period (see proof here).
Well, apparently someone forgot to tell the people at Fuji this limitation as the X-Pro1 more than holds its own against the latest and greatest FF sensors (5DIII, D4, that’s you!). Long story short: Fuji has proven that there are still great strides to be made in regards to high ISO image quality. Needless to say, Canon and Nikon had better hope that Fuji doesn’t decide to get into the FF camera business as clean ISO 51,600 could be the result!
Want to buy a Fuji X-Pro1? As for availability, the X-Pro1 is out but, not surprisingly, is back-ordered due to the fact that Fuji simply can’t build the cameras fast enough to meet the staggering demand. When the camera does make it back into stock, expect to pay $1,700 for the body and between $600 and $650 for the lenses.
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